Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Urban ponderings

From my brother -- an architect in Madison:

"In the Architecture business we have been inundated with "green" products and methods over the last couple of years, much of which is nothing but marketing bunk. But there is some truly valuable stuff out there on how our industry can help save energy, money and therefore reduce carbon output. One of the things rarely discussed is the planning aspect of all the people moving to suburbia. Al Gore was talking about this when he ran for president, but nobody cared then. The concept of "low-hanging fruit" is rather intriguing - how to get more efficiency without much cost or change of habit from areas that use the most energy. Light bulbs and more insulation are two that make so much sense, as compared to some of the high-tech solutions (which do need to be researched and developed)."

He brings up a few good points - energy efficiency and rethinking urban sprawl. I haven't heard all that much about these topics either here or at home. (Maybe other sessions have included these topics??)

On a very crowded subway train last night, I overheard someone from Australia talking about “cities of close distances” where water, electricity and food delivery would be much more localized. In otherwords -- rethinking the grid structure. I didn’t catch all of it, but wish I could have talked to him. He also mentioned the dramatic rise in school and community gardens which began for health reasons but now provide a significant proportion of fresh food to the students and locals. He was also talking about urban vertical farming which is a fascinating concept. Check out the concept and images at http://www.verticalfarm.com/ .

Unfortunately in the Lehigh Valley "cities of close distances" exist, but we don't have efficiency. We build strip malls, Targets, Lowes and Home Depots every few miles so people don’t have to go far. While this minimizes driving distances I suppose(oh if we only had mass transportation), it wastes all sorts of resources and covers soil and vegetation that could be very important for carbon capture and storm water runoff. And you all know about the urban sprawl we have. It won't be long before ABE is all one large city and with the growth on Rte 33, it might include Stroudsburg as well. I haven't seen any box stores here (they might be, and I just haven't seen them). The shopping centers (quite modest compared to ours, except the rows of shops in the center city) are all adjacent to major train stops.

I stayed in the village today (didn't have a pass for the Bella Center) to catch up on some work. In the afternoon, I walked to the market and bought a few food items. Everyone in the store had only a small basket (they shop more often than we do) and either walked or rode bikes to the store. There were no plastic or paper bags. I was good and brought one of my own to carry things back to our temporary home. (KM - you would like it here!)

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